Friday will technically be just the 11th game of the season for the Detroit Tigers, but 2020 has already felt like a whirlwind across baseball. After playing the first ever MLB doubleheader of two seven-inning contests last Sunday, the Tigers were abruptly given the next four days off, as numerous St. Louis Cardinals tested positive for Covid-19.
While the Tigers were actually looking competitive for a moment, things may be starting to settle in. After an inspiring first week of the season, Detroit sank back to .500 after Sunday’s losses to the Reds and now sits fourth in the AL Central. The offense has been struggling, the pitching staff still has plenty of question marks, and while it has only been two weeks of baseball, many of the same problems are coming back to the surface.
The Tigers will turn to their ace to reverse the slide, as the scheduling break allows Matthew Boyd to make his third start of the season. Boyd allowed exactly four runs over five innings over both of his outings thus far, and while he did strike out six Royals last week, neither outing was very impressive.
For Detroit to be competitive this season, Boyd must find a way to get back to his first half form from last season. His 3.87 ERA was fueled by a 32 percent strikeout rate; while it is still early into the 2020 season, he is generating fewer whiffs and fanning fewer batters, which could bring him back to his pre-2019 numbers. With so few reliable options in the rotations, the Tigers need him to get better quickly.
Detroit Tigers (5-5) at Pittsburgh Pirates (3-10)
Game 11 Pitching Matchup
Chad Kuhl will get the start on Friday, but do not expect him to pitch too deep into the game. The righthander has started 61 games in his career, but after missing all of 2019 with Tommy John surgery, he is being used in a more limited capacity this season. Kuhl looks like he could be an effective opener, although it is probably more accurate to call him the leader of a bullpen parade for this start.
Kuhl has been solid so far this season, striking out five batters over five innings while only allowing one run. Both of his appearances have come in early relief of Steven Brault, who has been even better so far this year. Brault has allowed just one hit and no runs over five innings, and with some injuries in the Pirates rotation, he might get a chance to be stretched out to become a full-on starter.
This would explain why Kuhl gets the start against Detroit instead of piggybacking Brault, although it likely will not change his purpose too greatly. Kuhl is still working his way back from injury, so he will be limited to a few frames before passing it over to the rest of the bullpen. While he has good numbers early on, this is much preferable to seeing the Cincinnati rotation ever again.
Key matchup: Tigers vs. winnable games
Look, as fun as the first week of the season was, no one was really expecting the Tigers to compete this year. This roster has holes all over, and it would take some extreme luck to even get into the playoff hunt. That being said, this team is definitely better than last year’s league-worst club, and hopefully there will be some watchable baseball over the next couple months.
For that to happen, the Tigers need to take care of business against the bottom of the league. The Pirates have been terrible so far and represent one of the few teams that Detroit has a true advantage over. None of the starters set to pitch this weekend should be that intimidating, so this would be a great time for the bats to wake back up.